Automation adds new flavors to catering biz

A robot serves tea to visitors during a tea expo in Beijing in April. [WU CHANGQING/FOR CHINA DAILY]

China’s pursuit of new quality productive forces, which are characterized by innovation, digitalization and high-end technology, is injecting new momentum into the country’s catering industry.

Evidence of this was found on a recent morning at the entrance/exit of Niujie subway station in Beijing, where a pancake vending machine busily made and served jianbing (savory pancakes). Passengers, passersby and local residents lined up to place orders using the machine’s screen and scanned the QR code to pay.

After payment was done, a pancake-making robot at the back of the vending machine automatically spread the pancake, added a fried egg, turned the pancake over, dabbed the sauce using a brush and added the seasoning. Some three minutes later, the hot pancake was packed into a bag and delivered to the consumer. The entire process is automated.

“The jianbing tastes fine, almost like the handmade ones,” said a consumer. “But there are places where the sauce is not evenly spread.”

By 11 am, the pancakes were all sold out and a staff member appeared on the scene to carry out maintenance work on the machine.

“The pancake vending machine is still in trial operations, and the daily yield rate is limited. The pancake-making robot can analyze and learn from existing data after work every day. When the vending machine is officially put into full-fledged use, it should be capable of making 400 pancakes a day,” said the staff member.

China’s actual use of foreign capital in Q1 remains at historically high level, defying West’s ‘foreign capital withdrawal’ rhetoric

A view of the skyline of Lujiazui in Shanghai on January 24, 2024 Photo: VCG

A view of the skyline of Lujiazui in Shanghai on January 24, 2024 Photo: VCG

China’s actual use of foreign capital in the first quarter of this year remained at a historically high level, an official with China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) said at a press conference held by the State Council Information Office on Friday, defying claims by some Western media that foreign capital is withdrawing from China.

The country’s continuous opening-up, supportive policies and industry upgrade are among the key drivers for more foreign capital, officials and experts said.

Friday’s data also reflect the fact that the world’s second largest economy continues to be attractive to foreign businesses, despite the West’s intensified attempts at “decoupling” or de-risking.

Speaking at Friday’s press conference, Guo Tingting, vice commerce minister said that the number of newly established foreign-invested enterprises in the first quarter of this year came at 12,000, an increase of 20.7 percent, maintaining the rapid growth trend from last year.

In terms of investment scale, the actual use of foreign capital reached 301.67 billion yuan ($41.67 billion), which was still at a historically high level, the vice minister said.

It is noteworthy that in terms of investment structure, the proportion of investment in high-tech manufacturing reached 12.5 percent during this period, an increase of 2.2 percentage points year-on-year, according to Guo.

Investment in the service industry, which is closely related to residents’ lives, also witnessed rapid growth.

The growth was driven by multiple factors, particularly China’s continuous opening-up efforts, improved market environment and industry upgrade, officials and experts said.

For example, the “Invest in China” series of activities as part of the government’s opening-up effort has received an enthusiastic response. The first landmark event alone attracted more than 140 representatives of foreign companies and business associations from 17 countries and regions, according to the MOFCOM official on Friday.

The continuous optimization of China’s business environment for foreign enterprises allows more of them to participate more fully in China’s development and gives them a sense of achievement, Bai Ming, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told the Global Times on Friday.

Although there is foreign capital moving out of China, Bai said it is a part of capital market development. “Foreign investment comes and goes, much like the continuous flow of international capital markets, but the structure is constantly optimizing,” Bai said. 

As China pursues industry upgrades for high-quality development, many foreign investments, especially those with advanced technology, choose to expand their investments and outlays in China, experts said, defying some Western rhetoric that there is a trend of foreign capital leaving the country.

In the first quarter, the actual use of foreign investment in the manufacturing industry reached 81.06 billion yuan, of which investment in high-tech manufacturing reached 37.76 billion yuan, Ji Xiaofeng, an official with the department of foreign investment management under MOFCOM, told the press conference on Friday.

Data from some leading international consultancies also pointed to the positive trend.

The 2024 Kearney FDI Confidence Index released by American global management consulting firm Kearney shows China jumping from 7th position to 3rd, which shows that multinational companies will continue to expand their investment in China.

In the first quarter, China’s GDP grew 5.3 percent, which was well above market expectations, as the country got off to a robust start, laying the foundation for achieving its goal of growing by around 5 percent for the whole year.

As the trend of China’s economic development is further consolidated, foreign companies see new opportunities for growth in areas such as green transformation and digitalization.

Meanwhile, more policy support is also in place to boost foreign investment.

On Friday, MOFCOM, together with nine other government departments, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the China Securities Regulatory Commission, issued 16 specific measures to further support overseas institutions’ investment in domestic technology-based enterprises.

These measures include implementing differentiated supervision, supporting bond issuance and facilitating personnel exchanges.

On the same day, China’s top securities regulator issued 16 measures to boost capital markets’ support for high-tech companies, including setting up green channels for fundraising, in a bid to boost innovation and development of new quality productive forces.

In March, China’s State Council, the cabinet, issued an action plan comprising 24 specific pro-foreign investment measures to attract foreign investment, facilitate data flows and business travel. The action plan demonstrates the Chinese government’s determination and efforts to attract foreign investment, which plays a positive role in further promoting high-level opening-up, experts said.

Looking ahead, Ji said that MOFCOM is further easing barriers to foreign investment, including reasonably reducing the negative list for foreign investment access, comprehensively abolishing access restrictions in the manufacturing sector, and relaxing market access in the medical, telecommunications and other service industries.

GT Voice: Protectionism can’t solve EU’s weak competitiveness in solar

Illustration: Liu Xiangya/Global Times

Illustration: Liu Xiangya/Global Times

European governments appear to be ready to move to support their solar power manufacturers this week, but Europe’s solar industry is in trouble – not just due to a lack of policy support but also because of flawed competitiveness.

Swiss solar panel maker Meyer Burger is packing up a German factory to send production to the US, joining a growing list of European renewable-energy factories shutting down or relocating, Reuters reported on Monday.

In contrast to Europe, the US government does provide attractive subsidies and policy support for green sectors. Yet, if Meyer Burger wants to succeed in the competitive US market, it still needs to rely on its own strength, not just policy support.

The solar panel maker’s choice is just one example of the serious challenges facing the European solar industry, which is at a relative disadvantage in the global photovoltaic (PV) market. China has taken a dominant position, with its companies accounting for 80 percent of the world’s solar manufacturing capacity and with low costs. 

Meanwhile, US subsidies announced as part of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act allow some renewable-energy manufacturers and project developers to claim tax credits, intensifying the competitive pressure on European companies.

Nevertheless, the woes facing Europe’s solar industry are not solely due to a lack of policy support, as there is obvious weakness in the competitiveness of European industry. Despite having a well-established solar supply chain, European companies face challenges in terms of technological innovation, investment in research and development, optimized production procedures and cost reducing.

On the one hand, they have not achieved economies of scale in manufacturing. On the other hand, while Chinese companies are actively exploring next-generation PV technologies, the progress by their European peers is relatively slow.

It is exactly under such circumstances that some in the EU have been quick to point a finger at China for the EU’s diminishing competitiveness, resulting in a worrying rise in the risk of trade friction. For instance, in early April, the EU launched two probes into Chinese solar panel makers suspected of using government subsidies, according to media reports.

However, the EU cannot simply attribute its competitive setbacks to China’s “unfair competition.” The global demand for renewable energy necessitates fair competition to drive technological advancements and industrial efficiency. China’s success in the PV industry results largely from its own competitive edges through its consistent investment in technology, scale, cost controls and innovation. 

If Europe aims to enhance the competitiveness of its solar industry, it must address its own technological and cost challenges rather than relying solely on trade protection measures.

The significant expansion of China’s solar panel capacity is a welcome development for European companies and consumers seeking to develop their own PV systems. The transition to green energy is costly, and inflation is already high enough. China’s help in lowering such costs is undeniably conducive to the EU’s ambitious energy transition plan.

The EU’s anxiety about protecting its own industry is understandable, but the root cause lies in the long-term decline in the bloc’s competitiveness, not in its competitors. The financial crisis, euro crisis, Russia-Ukraine conflict and bureaucratic reactions may have all played a part. 

Furthermore, misleading policy trends, such as hype about “de-risking” from China, have also hindered the progress and development of the EU’s PV industry.

The EU’s ability to sustain and improve its competitiveness hinges on whether it takes the proper measures to effectively address these enduring challenges. Embracing a more open-minded and globalized approach, rather than being overly ideological and protectionist, may offer a viable solution.

Flow of efforts: China’s decade in water conservation

Over the past decade, adhering to the strategy of “prioritizing water conservation”, China has launched the National Water Conservation Campaign and promoted water-saving throughout society, with the focus on agriculture, industry and urban areas. Here are some figures showing progress in saving water.

IDC: China’s GenAI sector investment surges, projected to reach $13 billion by 2027

AI Photo: VCG

AI Photo: VCG

Driven by rapid technological advancement, China is expected to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 86.2 percent for generative artificial intelligence (AI) investment between 2022 and 2027, according to a newly released report from Research firm IDC, showcasing the robust prospects of the country’s high-tech sector.

Thanks to the government’s rising efforts to accelerate high-quality development, China’s generative AI spending is set to reach 33 percent of the world’s AI investment by 2027, up from 4.6 percent in 2022 with the generative AI investments probably reaching $13 billion, according to the report.

China’s performance is outstanding amid overall global growth in the industry, which is projected to reach $512.42 billion by 2027, with a CAGR of 31.1 percent, IDC forecasted in its Worldwide Artificial Intelligence Spending Guide.

The report also underscored China’s leading position in AI investment within the Asia-Pacific region, surpassing half of the total investment in the region. As of 2027, China`s AI investment is set to exceed $40 billion, representing a CAGR of 25.6 percent. 

Generative AI is poised to become a pivotal technology in enterprise automation. Banking, retail, software, and information services are cited as the top three spenders driving its innovation and growth, collectively constituting nearly a third of the market, according to the report.

Since 2014, China’s AI development has been accelerating, driven by the surging application demand within the domestic market. According to an official with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), China’s AI industry output value reached 580 billion yuan ($80.23 billion) in 2023, up 18 percent year-on-year. The number of major AI-related enterprises has exceeded 4,400, ranking second in the world.

China’s AI development has been rising rapidly amid the government’s ramped-up efforts to develop new quality productive forces. The country has announced a slew of plans to enhance industrial innovation, and accelerate AI-driven manufacturing, led by large language models, to speed up the establishment of a modern industrial system, an official from MIIT said recently.

Global Times